A Directory of Archival Repositories 1999

  1. Introduction
  2. Alphabetical list of repositories



The unique nature of archives and manuscripts confers a special status to the individual repositories which have custody of them, but also an obligation. Specific individual repositories are important because of the archival material they preserve which, unlike publications, cannot be found elsewhere. Concomitantly, repositories are obligated to make their holdings known to potential users, and to define their acquisitions or collecting policies and areas of specialisation clearly in relation to those of other institutions to minimise the dispersal of related material and the duplication of collecting endeavours. South Africa is fortunate in having a large number of institutions dedicated to preserving non-public archives, i.e. private records of individuals and organisations that are not governed by the National Archives of South Africa Act (No 43 of 1996). There is however still considerable scope for better co-ordination of collecting endeavours. A Directory of Archival Repositories in South Africa seeks to provide essential information to users of archives and manuscripts, and potentially to promote liaison between archival repositories and the co-ordination of their services and collecting endeavours.

In 1986 the South African Library published a Directory of Manuscript Collections in Southern Africa 1985, compiled following a symposium on manuscripts. The Directory has proved to be an invaluable tool, but is now outdated. The National Committee of the South African Society of Archivists (SASA) suggested in 1997 that the National Archives of South Africa should undertake the compilation of a new publication containing essential information on archival repositories. I welcomed SASA's suggestion, particularly as the National Archives of South Africa Act charges the National Archives with promoting co-operation and co-ordination between institutions having custody of archival records. As a facet of this responsibility, the Act empowers the National Archives to maintain national registers on non-public records with enduring value in consultation with institutions having custody of such records. The Act specifically directs the National Archives to avoid competition in the collecting of non-public records by providing that the activity be confined to those records which have enduring value of national significance and which cannot be more appropriately preserved by another institution. The Act assigns the regulation of the preservation of non-public records to the National Archives Commission, and makes it an offence to destroy, export from South Africa, or otherwise dispose of non-public records recorded in a national list by the Commission without its approval.

The South African Library expressed its agreement that the National Archives is the appropriate institution to undertake the compilation of a new Directory. The elements used in each entry largely correspond with those of the South African Library's publication. Slight but significant differences in approach to this publication are that it incorporates public as well as non-public records, and that it is confined to repositories within South Africa. The format was submitted to the South African Historical Society for comment. The following brief notes seek to clarify certain elements in the entry format, which are generally self-explanatory.

Access: This element indicates the policies which govern public access to archives and manuscripts at individual institutions.

Acquisitions policy: This element indicates the nature of the records acquired and demarcates the fields of collection where applicable.

Areas of specialisation: This element indicates the areas of specialisation within the broader acquisitions policy. e.g. records on particular individuals, regions or themes.

Core holdings: This element is intended to provide a concise, summarised overview of the core holdings, such as those which are the largest, most heavily consulted or are most significant in terms of the repository's own acquisitions policy. The information provided is necessarily selective, and it would be necessary to consult the repository's finding aids, the national registers and the reference staff of the repository to obtain a complete picture of the holdings and to retrieve specific records.

Finding aids: This element gives an indication of the existence and availability of finding aids in general terms, and whether they are published or electronic. Finding aids to individual groups or collections are not listed.

National register participation: The National Archives maintains four national registers in respect of manuscripts (NAREM), photographs (NAREF), audio-visual material (NAROM) and oral sources (NAROS). The purpose of the national registers is to record information about archival material kept in different locations at a central point. The registers are accessible for on-line searching as part of the national automated archival information retrieval system at a number of participating institutions. This element indicates whether a repository participates in any of the registers and whether it is linked for on-line access.

An alphabetical list of repositories and an index of locations have been included to facilitate the use of the Directory.

The information contained in the Directory was obtained by means of a questionnaire which was widely distributed in March 1998. Reminders were sent out in August 1998. The amount of information provided, and in some cases, its appropriateness, varied according to the size and scope of the institution concerned. A certain amount of editing was necessary to ensure that the information is presented in a reasonably uniform manner, but differences in the style of individual contributions were generally retained. Despite the efforts made to obtain information, I am aware that the Directory cannot claim to be fully comprehensive. Any repository which would like to be included in a possible future edition is welcome to advise me. I sincerely thank all those who have provided the information that constitutes the contents of this first edition.


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